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Harlan Coben is the Dalai Lama of Suspense. Seriously, every suspense lover should read Caught. It’s a gateway to phenomenal writing and enlightened reading.
He hooked me with his first line, “I knew opening that red door would destroy my life.”
I have to know why and how and everything else that goes along with the destruction of Dan Mercer’s life.
I decided to read the first few chapters and 100 pages flew by. He is a skillful writer who doesn’t let go of his reader for one heart-pounding millisecond.
His descriptions are crisp and fresh like “Small curls of orange shag, like thin cheetos, littered the floor.”
The characters are well crafted, sucking you right into their suburban lives and the underbelly of their existence.
The premise promises a thrilling, suspenseful mystery with hairpin turns and twists that toss the reader off treacherous cliffs.
I had no idea how things would end until I reached the very last sentence of the last page.
Here’s how Mr. Coben’s website describes the book:
From the #1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense comes a fast-paced, emotion-packed novel about guilt, grief, and our capacity to forgive.
17 year-old Haley McWaid is a good girl, the pride of her suburban New Jersey family, captain of the lacrosse team, headed off to college next year with all the hopes and dreams her doting parents can pin on her. Which is why, when her mother wakes one morning to find that Haley never came home the night before, and three months quickly pass without word from the girl, the community assumes the worst.
Wendy Tynes is a reporter on a mission, to identify and bring down sexual predators via elaborate—and nationally televised—sting operations. Working with local police on her news program Caught in the Act, Wendy and her team have publicly shamed dozens of men by the time she encounters her latest target. Dan Mercer is a social worker known as a friend to troubled teens, but his story soon becomes more complicated than Wendy could have imagined.
In a novel that challenges as much as it thrills, filled with the astonishing tension and unseen suburban machinations that have become Coben’s trademark, Caught tells the story of a missing girl, the community stunned by her loss, the predator who may have taken her, and the reporter who suddenly realizes she can’t trust her own instincts about this case—or the motives of the people around her.
While I was reading this book, everything became something that had to get done so that I could get back to the book.
After reading this book, I would buy and read any book with Harlan Coben’s name on it. He is one of the top writers of our generation.
truly, madly is the first book in Heather Webber’s quirky new series about Lucy Valentine, who cannot see auras like the rest of her matchmaking family but can find lost objects.
This talent makes her the “black sheep” of her family….at least in her own mind. But when her father needs someone to step in and run the family business, Lucy discovers just how useful her talent is.
Full of quirky, robust characters and a plot that didn’t reveal itself until the last 10 pages, this is a great read for mystery fans that like a paranormal element and a dash of romance too.
Honestly, I don’t know how to categorize this book and neither did the publishers. The labeled it a novel. Personally, I see it as a mystery with romantic elements and a dash of the paranormal. Something for everyone.
The writing sucks you in from page 1 with this opening line: There comes a time in every girl’s life when she realizes her father isn’t perfect.
Aren’t you dying to hear more?
I was. I finished the novel on my flight to Italy. I have the kindle for book 2 to read in Italy. So excited. The third book is due out soon too.
Tuesday night, I ventured out into the cloudy humid air for the MWA Mid Manhattan Library presentation on mixed genres with romance and mystery. Oddly enough, as I sat there waiting for the talk to begin, I realized every time I come to one of these events it’s raining or overcast with the threat of rain. Although a dark and stormy night does make for a good mystery, I suppose.
Onto the discussion. Sheila York (SY) moderated with Cordelia Frances Biddle (CFB), Shelley Freydont (SF) and Pearl Wolf (PW) participated in the panel. As a fun side note: they handed out tickets and at the end would pick who was the lucky winner of a free book with the author signing it! Pretty awesome and a definite reason to attend future events.
SY mentioned that combining romance with other genres is not new, but blending it with mystery is relatively new. This talk was about blending flirtation and felony.
A brief background was given for each author before they delved into the challenges and pleasures of writing a mixed genre novel. PW talked about her first novel being informed by research on her own family. She pointed out how in the 1800s there were no spy organizations in England, instead each peer/duke had their own spy system. She decided to organize it and have a well-born woman want to be a spy.
SF was a retiring dancer who read voraciously while on tour. She gobbled up mysteries and thrillers and tried her hand at writing a mystery.
CFB wrote a literary novel but loved romance.
Then they moved on to writers who influenced them. For CFB it was the Brontes and Dickens. SF mentioned Agatha Christie.
The question came up about if they started off by imitating their idols.
- CFB talked about reading someone she likes and picking up their language. Then she goes back and makes it hers.
- SF talked about how everyone has their own voice and you have to find yours.
- PW mentioned how she’ll be typing away and a phrase she read elsewhere will creep in. She removes it. But in the end writers do borrow from each other.
- SY tried to write richly imagined descriptions, but she just can’t do it.
What drew them to the place and time they write about?
- CFB grew up in Philly and was researching her ancestors (Biddle and Drexel). She discovered that the 1840s were a cusp time with the Civil War looming.
- SF loves small towns–everyone sees each other’s clean laundry and knows their dirty laundry. For her, the town is like another character in the book. She makes up small towns but draws her own maps.
- PW’s setting was research driven. She visited England and was amazed by how much they loved their antiquities–so much so that they built a detour around a 500-year-old building that sat in the middle of the road rather than tear down the building. This Jane Austen time period was a cusp of great change. Hydraulics were being discovered. Women were beginning to question morals and manners of the day.
- SY was fascinated by late 1940s. She saw pictures of her parents young years and the 1940s seemed like such a romantic time. She loves movies from that era. The 1940s were a time of change in the movie industry tooo. TV became widespread. She also decided to write her story from the POV of the female client to the male detective.
How do the authors deal with the limitations on women in their specific time periods?
- PW has two sisters as the heroines, one of which is gutsy and wants to be a spy (she noted that there were very few female spies in history). She talked about the change in romance literature from “bodice rippers” to “pants rippers.” Her current novel’s heroine is not gutsy until she must fight for the man she loves.
- CFB said that Martha was led into the mystery in her first book. There was an evolution of her recognition of responsibilities that come with the money she had inherited. She had a strong social justice bent. A heiress can break some rules. (CFB mentioned how she likes to read Tennyson before she starts writing)
- SF writes in the modern day, but Katie (her protagonist) is a puzzle geek who must deal with the attitude the small town puts on women in certain positions.
Most of the authors writes series and they talked how difficult it is to keep the tension alive. The center of a romance is: I love that person more than myself and do everything in my power to make that person happy. For CFB with her second book there was more action but nothing beyond canoodling.
SF said that she maintains romantic tension but not having the characters know they are attracted to each other. She mentioned that it is so easy to not keep sexual tension going in this age. Katie (her protagonist) is in a small town in NH and the male lead is a southern guy who became the chief of police. So you’ve got a cultural clash ripe for misunderstandings. To make matters worse, Katie has a spinster aunt trying to marry her off to a nice local guy with job security, which means Katie lives in a fish bowl.
PW- talked about establishing the rake. She has him live at a whorehouse in France and his reputation follows him back to England.
How do they let the heroine solve the crime without the male lead looking like an idiot?
- CFB thinks the female mind works differently and may look at issues more intuitively. The male lead is focused on how criminals act. The female asks questions about different aspects.
- SF had the male lead hit by a car. Also he’s an outsider in the small town so the townspeople feed all their info to Katie who talks to him.
It is interesting to note that most mysteries have one POV, especially amateur sleuth mysteries. So how much do the writers consider the male POV in the relationship?
- CFB has 2 POV for Martha and Thomas–tries to get inside both minds. Thomas is desperately in love with this woman. He wants her to be happy. But there are lots of misunderstandings.
- SY’s heroine drives the story. Peter comes from nothing and is the male lead.
- SF–writes romance and has 2 POV.
However, if you write 1POV you can still show the actions and reactions and tenseness. Show his POV filtered through her POV.
Marketing today is at least 50% of the author’s job. They have websites, bookmarks, signings, etc.
SY feels that genre blending is encouraged, but SF reminded us that the bottom line is that the marketing group needs to know where to shelve it.
During the Q&A, someone asked about consulting experts to understand the human psyche w/r/t romances.
PW–mentioned asking her ex husband who was a psychologist to understand the ramification of why people do something. She thinks that we write to discover why people do what they do.
It was a free, fun event put on by the NYC Chapter of the MWA, which is a highly organized and active group. If you write mysteries in the NYC area, I recommend you join.
Today I had a bunch of appointments, which meant lots of waiting…and I got to finish E.J. Copperman’s Night of the Living Deed! This is the first book in “a haunted guesthouse mystery” series. People, I read this book in 2 days. This is super fast for me. Normally, it’s a book a week in my spare time. So that means–it’s really good!
The plot is well executed and clues are carefully laid out throughout. I’m starting to think I am not so good at solving mysteries though because I couldn’t figure it out until it all played out.
The characters are quirky and lovable. Even the contentious ghost Maxie has redeeming qualities (which you won’t see until the end). The single mom renovating the house is a great protagonist and I enjoyed seeing everything through her eyes. I love love love the ghost aspect of the story. And the dynamics between the characters–they play off each other beautifully.
The setting–Jersey Shore sans Snooki–is perfect for the book.
The blurbs on the book are completely on target. This is a great tale. I skipped watching TV to finish it tonight.
I just finished the novel, Secondhand Spirits, by Juliet Blackwell, which is described as a witchcraft mystery. It was a fun read with a great twist ending involving murder and a missing child.
The protagonist, Lily Ivory, has been an outsider her whole life. She moves to San Fran, hoping to lay down roots. But old habits die-hard and self-doubt rears its ugly head. By the end of the book, the author leaves you wanting to know more about Lily and the two men in her life, Max and Aidan. I can’t wait to read the second book in the series.
The first two pages immediately drew me in. Actually, from the first line–witches recognize their own– the story hooked me. Several times, I nearly missed my subway stop because of this book–definitely a good sign.
The setting of San Fran worked well. Having visited a few times, I could picture places that Lily went. It also is a great place for Lily to explore who she is–just perfect!
The main plot and subplots wove together so well, you didn’t even notice them. As a reader, I found myself wondering what next and not being able to guess. I really enjoyed going along for the ride and having no idea where we would end up. Made me finish the last 50 pages tonight.
I just finished Paige Shelton’s Farm Fresh Murder and it was a deliciously good read! I hate when I put the clues together before the book is done, but this one kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. Paige did an excellent job of introducing a slew of interesting characters in such a way that you never knew who the killer was. It’s a great twist ending. One of the best books, I’ve read this year.
Her characters and setting feel so real, you’re dying to drive down to Bailey’s and pick up some of Becca’s pumpkin preserves. Personally, I wasn’t sure a farmer’s market could be that exciting. Boy was I wrong. Her writing makes me contemplate giving up the city life to grow strawberries.
The supporting characters are so well written they guarantee the series will be worth reading.
The protagonist is likeable, quirky and loyal–all of which conspires to make for a great tale. I cannot wait to read the next one in the series and find out more about Becca’s love life and the goings on at the farmer’s market. I’m hooked.
And a huge congrats to Paige Shelton for the book hitting #35 on the New York Times Bestseller List–check out her posting on it and find out more about her tattoo promise!
Last Wednesday, I attended the Mystery Writer’s of America Edgar Symposium. Without a doubt, one of the best one- day events focusing on the craft of mystery writing and definitely worth attending next year. The lineup alone was worth the cost. Donald Maass, Lee Child, S.J. Rozan, Mary Downing Hahn, and Laura Lippman are just a few of the panel participants.
My favorite session was Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Mystery. He is without a doubt a writing guru and electrifying public speaker. He’s the kind of speaker that can lead you into hell and back and you’d think it was a delightful adventure provided he kept speaking. His presentation was more like an actual training seminar where he poses the questions and concepts and you have to write responses based on your story or where your story could go. It was an amazing exercise. At times, frustrating to see potential issues in the story, but overall completely worth it. I would highly recommend ordering the recording of this session if you are struggling to write your breakout mystery because he takes you though it step by step. Favorite line: Be mean to the protagonist.
Next up was the Dialogue session: Telling vs. Showing. The panel shared their varied experiences and talked about some of the big Dos and Don’ts in dialogue. My favorite example of bad attribution: She purred conspiratorially. One author mentioned how he kept a running notebook of great dialogue overheard over the years. Another stressed the importance of the white page for the conversation happening underneath the dialogue.
In the Short Stories vs. Novels: The Long and Short of It, there was yet another great panel of talented writers sharing their experiences. One author mentioned how the recovery time is shorter for writing short stories and it is also a great way to try out a new setting/voice when you are unsure you can do it. Short stories were also a fast way to learn what you need to do in longer fiction. My favorite line was when one author compared writing short stories to a robbery: You get in and out fast. One of the good points of switching between the two is that after writing a short story you get the intensity of emotions and pacing and can now bring that into your novel.
In Fact vs. Fiction–Falling in Love With Your Research, a panel of über talented authors discussed their research and how they walk a line between incorporating too much and too little. Most authors on the panel started with newspapers and magazines to get a feel for the period as well as culling through them for story ideas. One concept that was particularly interesting was the idea of “metabolizing research” so that it becomes a part of you.
The Writing Juvenile and Young Adult Mysteries panel included an explanation about about how swearing, sex, and gay lifestyle are absolutely not accepted in the MG level and that even Young Adult faces scrutiny about sex, that gay acceptance is very risky, and that abortion is very difficult. It was also mentioned that religious swearing is not allowed in MG and that the “F” word is bad in YA. One interesting contrast to adult novels is that kids like cliff hanger endings, whereas adults tend to like the loose ends all tied up nicely. In terms of keeping up with slang, some authors admitted to eavesdropping on children’s conversation.
The last panel was From the Writer’s Desk: Q&A with Lee Child and Laura Lippman. I found this panel absolutely inspirational and I will share some of their points with you. If your goal is to get published, you have to be ambitious and tell yourself how great you are. If you can’t say that you want to be a New York Times bestseller, then you won’t be. They mentioned how it took ten years to be an overnight success. They also drove home how important it is to write the story you want to write and do what you want to do. They stressed the importance of finding your voice, your style, your material and that is how you find your way. They closed by reminding us that there are always new goals to chose and to chase them.
Overall, an awesome day. I really enjoyed the break after each session for book signings by the panelists. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than an agent pitch conference and it was great to get to hear from established and newly published authors and meet other aspiring authors. A huge thanks to MWA for making such an event possible for everyone. I cannot imagine how much energy goes into planning and executing an event like this and the day progressed so quickly and seamlessly. Much thanks!